Throughout history, there has always been Jewish presence in The Land of Israel.
- In 438 AD, the Jews of the Galilee announced “the end of our people’s exile”, after Empress Eudoxia allowed them to return and pray at the site of the Temple (from the book “Igros Eretz Yisroel”, Avraham Yari) (p.91).
- In 614 AD, Jews fought the Persians who invaded the land, overpowered the Byzantine garrison force in Jerusalem, and ruled over the city for five years (p.91).
- The Arab Muslims who entered Jerusalem in the 7th century, encountered a strong Jewish presence and identity: “…We have evidence that the Jews settled in all parts of the land and on both sides of the Jordan, dwelled in the cities and towns, and worked in agriculture as well as all kinds of industry…” (p.91).
- In 1165, the famous Jewish-Spanish voyager Benjamin of Tudela found that the “Jerusalem Yeshiva” (Talmudic college) had been established in Damascus. Despite the fact that the Crusaders had destroyed almost all the Jewish communities in Jerusalem, Akko, Caesarea and Haifa, many Jews remained and entire rural communities survived in the Galilee (p.93).
- According to the testimony of Giacomo of Verona, the Christian monk who visited The Land of Israel, in the 14th century Jews from Ramleh and Lod were considered to be the ideal guides to the land (p. 93).
- There are various records of Jews in The Land during the 15th century. Their number grew, up to the point that in 1486, a respected pilgrim described that the Jews of Hebron and Jerusalem “will treat you with utmost trust, more than any other in these lands of heretics” (p. 93)
- In the 16th century, there was a significant wave of Jewish immigrants from Muslim lands to The Land of Israel. Jewish Immigration increased after the Spanish Inquisition (p. 93).
- The British consulate noted in 1839: “The Jews of Algiers and their daughters are plenty in The Land of Israel”.
- The Jewish community grew under Ottoman rule, until the 1870’s (p. 199).
- In the 1850s, Jews were the majority of the residents of Safed and Jerusalem, and immigration even increased during that period.
- In 1856, Montefiore obtained permission from the Sultan for the purchase of land by Jews.
- In 1878, Petach Tikva was established. Rishon Lezion was established in 1882 and Hadera in 1891. In 1914, Petach Tikva’s Jewish inhabitants numbered 2600.
- In 1882, the “Biluim” immigrated to Israel (p.204).
From the 1870s onward, the Ottomans started imposing restrictions on Jewish immigration and land acquisition (p.201-216).
- A significant part of the lands were owned by absentee landowners. The entirety of the Jezreel valley, for example, was owned by the Sultan and by a Syrian banker (p.201).
- The rich Effendi, who sold the lands to the Jews for astronomical prices, feared Jewish immigration and the new employment opportunities that could damage their status, which had until then enabled them to rule over the Arab population. For this reason, they incited the Arab inhabitants against the Jews. They also requested that the Ottoman government restrict the entry of Jews into the land (p. 202).
- During that period, tourists were only allowed to stay in the land for one month (p.203). The “Biluim” group, for example, were severely restricted; out of 60, only 18 stayed (p.204).
- A report sent to the British consul: “Deportation of immigrants, whose legal rights, unlike those of the Arabs, have been affected (p.206).
- According to testimony by naval officer and novelist Pierre Loti, Jews were harassed at the Western Wall (p. 206).
- From 1897, when the first Zionist congress took place, the Turks tightened their regulations, and banned the entry of Jews into The Land of Israel. In 1901, the Imperial Council of Viziers allowed the president of the Jewish Colonization Association (J.C.A) to purchase land in the Beirut region, on the condition that he wouldn’t settle Jews from other lands there (p. 211).
- Jews managed to get around some of the restrictions by paying bribes and entering by foot from Egypt.
- The Arab population, on the other hand, whose immigration wasn’t restricted, kept on growing. So the rapid development of the Jewish settlement in The Land of Israel actually encouraged Arab immigration into it.
- The Effendi had conflicting interests about Jewish immigration. On one hand, their position of power over the poor peasants was affected by the Jews who offered these workers better conditions. On the other hand, they wanted to profit from the sale of lands. Said Bey of the Husseini family: “Even if The Land of Israel cannot bear large immigration, a small number of Jews can benefit The Land of Israel” (p.209).
- The Effendi incited the masses by threatening that the Jews would oppress them just like the Muslims had oppressed the Jews until then (p.210).
- From the beginning of the Turkish rule in the 16th century, there were a series of regulations on “the Dhimmi infidels”, and humiliation acts were an everyday occurrence. For example, Jews were forced to work left of Muslims, since the left side is the side of Satan (p.178).
In 1914 the restrictions were eased, but WW1 changed the region completely. Entire Jewish families were sent to prison on suspicion of disloyalty, the Hebrew language was banned and even stamps with Herzel printed on them were prohibited. In addition, forced recruitment was imposed and the inhabitants of the Land where struck by a plague. All of these caused the Jewish population to shrink from 85,000 to 58,000 in 1918 (p.214).
The British showed willingness to help to encourage Jewish settlement in the Land—this gave hope to the Jews and lead to the establishment of the “NILI underground”, which collaborated with British intelligence services.
In November 1917, the Balfour Declaration was published.
Jewish settlement during the British mandate: Jews were only allowed to settle in a limited and small part of the land. Evidence of this was the fact that they only managed to purchase 9.3% of the land in the western part of The Land of Israel, despite the fact that they constituted 33% of the population (about 400,000) until 1935, and despite the fact that The Land of Israel had been designated as a refuge for the Jewish people without restrictions on their settlement (p.315).
Jews had bitter feelings toward the Arabs and the British rule, feelings that led in some cases to retaliation against them. This was only until the war broke out, during which, according to testimony from the Anglo-American report, the Jews joined the democratic struggle.
- According to reports by British officers, including General Dill, who served as commander of the British forces in The Land of Israel, the conduct of the Jews was “exceptional…rarely would a Jew be found making unlawful use of his weapon…”. and “the possibility of armed resistance (on their side) is unacceptable” (p.339).
- The Jewish agency sent a request to the Jews in the Land of Israel asking them to support Britain’s struggle. The Jews volunteered to help: 36,000 of the Jews of the Land of Israel served in British forces (p.338).
- What the British didn’t take into account, during all the years of the mandate when Jews were discriminated against, were the feelings of despair of a persecuted people and their hope of reestablishing their freedom in the land they longed for throughout all their years in exile.
- It is hard to determine when the change in mindset occurred, but Jews started to challenge the British while fighting for the Allies.
- Author Nicholas Bethel states in his book “The Palestine Triangle” that the publishing of “The White Paper” is what damaged relations between the Jews and Britain. As evidence he notes: “the first act of violence…was carried out in August 1939, three months after the White Paper was published…” (p. 340).
Jewish resistance operations were quickly used to justify Arab terrorism and to equate Jewish terrorism to Arab terrorism. A Jewish demonstration that took place in 1939, led to the loss of life of one British policeman. In response, a British general threatened that if any blood was spilled, “the responsibly will be on the Jewish leaders” (p.344).
- On the one hand, Jews fought fearlessly for the Allies; while on the other, they constantly looked for ways to bring “illegal” Jewish immigrants into the Land. They also found ways to purchase land, despite the ban on the sale of land owned by Arabs to Jews. The ban had come into force in the “White Paper” (p. 344).
Despite their bitter feelings, Jews never stopped showing their loyalty to the Allies, and even helped them in the fight against the Axis nations; all this despite the harsh treatment they received from the British, despite the deportation of Jewish immigrants who were labeled illegal, and despite the attacks on ships and the deportation of refugees arriving from concentration camps, barefoot and destitute—as seen by testimonies including the evidence in Bernard Wasserstein’s research. (p.348).
- It seemed that the British didn’t fear the Jews joining the Axis powers due to the genocide they were suffering and due to the fact that the Jews had nowhere to go. The Jews hoped that the British would put a halt to laws and decrees against them, so they could establish in the Land of Israel that home they had always dreamed of (p. 350).
- Despite the Jews’ hope, the British feared easing restrictions would bring a harsh reaction from the Arabs. Despite Arab support for the Nazis, the British chose to pander to them at the expense of the Jews. This cost many Jewish lives, including the 760 passengers of the “Struma” who drowned in the Black Sea after the British and the Turks refused to let them reach the Land of Israel (p.315).
- The British claimed that Jews on the ship may be “Nazi agents under the guise of refugees”, as noted by Lord Moyne, the British Secretary for the Colonies. In this way the British justified their refusal to accept Jewish refugees claiming they posed a security threat (p.352).
- Another concern that the British claimed, was the supposed fact that most of the passengers on the ship were academics and for that reason “non-productive”. The claim is absurd, since the Nazis used both educated and less educated Jews as workers (p.353).
- Following the “Struma” incident, and the loss of faith in the mandate of the Land of Israel, Jewish attitude around the world moved towards endorsing a war against British restrictions in the land. In 1942, Jews decided to set a goal for themselves: to establish a Jewish community on the Western part of the Land of Israel; simultaneously, The Emergency Zionist Congress decided, while meeting in New York, to pursue the establishment of a Jewish state, regardless of the British (p.355).
Jewish Yearning to The Land of Israel
- Jews have yearned to return to the Land of Israel for generations, as described by Sephardic Zionism.
- Each of the false Messiahs who drew followers yearning to miraculously return to the country, expresses the desire for Jews to return to the Land of Israel. Almost all of them were Sephardic. In 1524, Shlomo Molcho did not succeed in his campaign of persuasion, and was burned at the stake. In the 17th Century, Sabbetai Zvi lead a major movement aimed at returning to the Land of Israel, which failed following his conversion to Islam under threat of torture. The fact that Jews did not give up on false Messiahs indicates that they did not lose hope that the prophecy would be fulfilled (Page 94).
- Rabbi Menashe Ben Israel believed that England, which was empty of Jews, was preventing the return to the Land of Israel, and therefore encouraged Jewish settlement in England (Page 95).
- The Passover holiday is celebrated today in the same manner it was celebrated in the 11th Century, and at its conclusion these words are said: “Next year in Jerusalem rebuilt” (Page 95).
- Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, one of the greatest Jewish poet, expressed his yearning for the Land of Israel in poems, and even tried to immigrate to it. He apparently died en route. Maimonides also made Aliyah, and settled in Jerusalem (Page 96).
- Synagogues were both houses of prayer and also community centers, and the relationship between the members of their communities them were like extended families. Jews spoke their prayers with the expectation that they would be fulfilled, including prayers for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the gathering of the exiles. Jerusalem had been sacred to the Jews for 1,500 years before the arrival of Mohammed, and therefore Jews took care to send offerings to the Jewish community in Israel. A Jewish center was established near the Western Wall (Page 96).
- Many Sephardic Jews lived in Israel, and their language, Hebrew, was used for day-to-day speech long before the First Aliyah (Page 98).
- One of the proofs of this is that in 1948, the entire Jewish community in Yemen packed its bags and came to Israel in Operation On Wings of Eagles (Page 101).
- The yearning to return to the Land of Israel is also expressed in an ancient ceremony that has been preserved to the modern day: in each Jewish wedding, the groom breaks a glass, in memory of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (Page 101).